Thursday, July 7, 2016

Steeplechase Champ Benedict Cumberbatch, And A New Head Coach For Women's Track

The first Olympic champion in the 3,000-meter steeplechase was Benedict Cumberbatch of Great Britain.

Wait. No it wasn't. Cumberbatch is an actor. He was in "The Imitation Game," which TigerBlog really liked. It's the story of how a few English scholars broke a seemingly unbreakable Nazi code and in the process essentially built the first computer.

TB had never heard of Alan Turing before that movie. He didn't know anything about that story. And he especially didn't realize that there was a Princeton connection; Turing received a Ph.D. here in 1938.

If you've never seen the movie, it's worth checking out. Cumberbatch is really good, and he in fact was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actor.

TigerBlog checked out Cumberbatch's bio, and he's pretty sure the only other movie of his TB has seen is "Tinker Tailer Soldier Spy," which was 1) really good and 2) really confusing.

Cumberbatch has had huge success as a stage actor in his native England. He's been nominated three times for Olivier Awards, which are the English equivalent of the Tony Awards, and he won once, for Best Actor, in "Frankenstein."

It's quite an impressive resume. And if you see him in the next 10 days or so, wish him a happy birthday. He turns 40 on July 19.

One thing that is missing from his list of accomplishments, though, include anything about the 3,000-meter steeplechase. But hey, if you knew the first Olympic gold medalist in the steeplechase was in fact British - which he was - and TB told you his name was Benedict Cumberbatch, you'd believe him.

It certainly sounds like the name of a British distance runner, like someone out of "Chariots of Fire," which, by the way, was a really good movie but was one of the two biggest miscarriages of Academy Award for Best Picture justice, as it never should have beaten "Raiders of the Lost Ark." Nor, while TB is on the subject, should "Shakespeare In Love" ever be mentioned in the same universe as "Saving Private Ryan." 

As for the first steeplechase winner, it was Percy Hodge, of Great Britain. The year was 1920, and the location was Antwerp. His winning time was 10:00.4.

The next four Olympic gold medalists were all from Finland. The last eight, and 10 of the last 12, have been from Kenya.

Hodge's winning time in 1920, by the way, was about 18 seconds slower than the time Ashley Higginson, Princeton Class of 2011, ran in the Olympic Trial qualifier Monday. And Higginson wasn't running to get her best time; she was running to finish in the top three and advance, which she did easily, so she eased to the finish.

It's an interesting evolution of the best men's time in the event to a women's time that is world class but not incredible. It says a lot about where athletics have gone in nearly 100 years.

Higginson will again be looking to finish in the top three tonight, when she runs in the steeplechase final. The race starts at 7:48 Pacific Time (in Eugene, Ore.), so it'll be nearly 11 Eastern by the time she runs.

Higginson figures to be right in the mix for a top three finish, which would bring with it a spot on the U.S. Olympic team. She finished fourth in 2012, which is an excruciating place to be.

The race tonight is the first of two steeplechase finals in two days that directly impact Princeton fans. The men's final tomorrow night (8:23 Eastern time) will feature Donn Cabral, who is going for his second-straight trip to the Olympics after finishing eighth in London.

Cabral's time in the qualifier, by the way, was nearly two minutes faster than ol' Percy ran.

Princeton track and field had eight athletes qualify for the Olympic Trials. It's a program with great history and tradition, not to mention a lot of momentum in the present.

A new chapter in Princeton track and field started yesterday, when Michelle Eisenreich became the head coach of the women's program.

It's always a big deal when a new head coach starts. It's even bigger when that coach is only the second in program history, as it is in this situation, as Eisenreich replaces Peter Farrell, who retired after 39 years as the only head coach the women's program has known.

Michelle comes to Princeton from Stanford, where she has spent four years as associate head coach. She was at Brown for 12 years prior to that.

That's a pretty strong background. Stanford, plus 12 years in the Ivy League.

She was also an accomplished student-athlete in her own right. From the release:
Eisenreich was a standout student-athlete herself, having graduated from Cum Laude from Carleton College in 1996. She received All-America honors in the discus, was conference champion in the discus and indoor and outdoor shot put and twice earned Academic All-Conference honors. She was inducted into the Carleton Athletic Hall of Fame in 1999.

TigerBlog is looking forward to meeting her. And he wishes her luck. She's walking into a department with people eager to help her have a smooth transition and willing to do whatever they can to help her be successful.

TB predicts that she probably won't stay as long as the previous head coach, but that's okay.

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